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Software's role in the economic collapse

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  • User profile image
    Bass

    Okay so we are mostly software developers here. Part of what many of us do is write software which automate things, such as business processes and manufacturing. This software allows business to be run faster, better, cheaper. When you think about what "cheaper" it often means with less manpower.

    So a department which had 40-50 people can now be run with intelligent software and 5 people.

    Over the past ten years software developers have been automating almost every aspect of the business process, allowing businesses to require less and less human resources for the things they do. We are looking at fully automated factories now. As in, no humans required at all, except to maintain the machines which are quite reliable anyway. This naturally reduces the amount of available jobs.

    This trend may very well continue until we develop true general intelligence, what many feel is the ultimate goal of computer science. At that point, there will no need for human labor at all, as machines will generally be more intelligent and apt then us anyway.  General intelligence is still part of contemporary research.

    How would capitalism fit into this new world? Well, I am going to have to say it doesn't. As there will be no need for human labor, humans will not be required to actually do anything, and thus the concept of a free market economy will be pretty useless.

    Of course this is a gradual process, but software automation in general will ensure that the net amount of human labor will decrease over time especially in the menial jobs. As software gets more intelligent, and all trends point towards more complex and intelligent software, the need for human labor will continue to decrease. And with more and more unemployed people, the demand for socialism will also rise.

  • User profile image
    Sven Groot

    This is nothing new. It has been going on at least since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and probably even far before that.

  • User profile image
    Bass

    Sven Groot said:
    This is nothing new. It has been going on at least since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and probably even far before that.
    It's been going on the past 10,000 years. Think when the only human occupation was "hunter" or "gatherer". But really, advances in software have been able to mitigate some of the labor requirements of formally complex business processes. So some of it is very new, even state-of-the-art.

    But what I hope to be getting at is that this decrease in human involvement is happening, not so much when it started. Smiley

  • User profile image
    littleguru

    Didn't this happen in the roman empire? Where they had slaves (computers could be our slaves) that did everything for them and then went under. It's probably to easy to translate that over to the current situation. But it seems that as soon as everything would be done by some intelligence a lot of us would get really lazy and that's killer for civilization.

    It was mentioned that human labour gets less and less... - it might be true but when I'm looking at the situation in Italy I observe that we're still in the need of imigrants to come into our country to do the basic jobs (cleaning streets, disc washing in restaurants, waiter, ...) that most italian don't want to do anymore. From that standpoint I can't really see that work gets less.

  • User profile image
    tfraser

    We are able to delegate tasks to computers without any real loss of labour because we're continually doing more and more elaborate things in every field (think scientific, engineering and economics advances) which creates jobs ahead of the level at which the computers are at. If we didn't have machines to do the basic parts for us then we wouldn't be as advanced as we are now.

    I think that humans will always be doing the things that require the greatest level of intelligence. The concept of true AI is one that I find very difficult to comprehend.

  • User profile image
    Bass

    littleguru said:
    Didn't this happen in the roman empire? Where they had slaves (computers could be our slaves) that did everything for them and then went under. It's probably to easy to translate that over to the current situation. But it seems that as soon as everything would be done by some intelligence a lot of us would get really lazy and that's killer for civilization.

    It was mentioned that human labour gets less and less... - it might be true but when I'm looking at the situation in Italy I observe that we're still in the need of imigrants to come into our country to do the basic jobs (cleaning streets, disc washing in restaurants, waiter, ...) that most italian don't want to do anymore. From that standpoint I can't really see that work gets less.
    If you find this sort of advancement to be a problem, what is your solution? Is it to halt all progress in the software industry and computer science research in general? Because otherwise we will continue to move more toward an automated world.

    Automatic street cleaning is actually a somewhat complex computer science problem. You have a lot of variables to account for, it's probably harder then automating many aspects of an assembly line. Basically not all forms of menial labor are algorithmically easy. But in the end of the day, it's all solvable.

  • User profile image
    Bass

    tfraser said:
    We are able to delegate tasks to computers without any real loss of labour because we're continually doing more and more elaborate things in every field (think scientific, engineering and economics advances) which creates jobs ahead of the level at which the computers are at. If we didn't have machines to do the basic parts for us then we wouldn't be as advanced as we are now.

    I think that humans will always be doing the things that require the greatest level of intelligence. The concept of true AI is one that I find very difficult to comprehend.
    The concept of AI is not too difficult, it requires understanding somewhat the functionality of the human brain. So far there is no modern computer that can reason or judge at the level of many animals let alone the human brain. But really the human brain is fairly small and low power. Even if you assume it is perfect (which I doubt it is) for it's size and energy usage, we can always do better simply because the fact the human brain is finite and relatively small in energy consumption and mass.

    So on that idea, it's not hard to see that if we do create a "general AI", it could possibly have intelligence like no human savant or prodigy could even relate to. And such an AI would naturally do everything better then a human could. So assuming we can control such a creation to do our bidding, it will mean the end of all forms of human labor, even R&D.

  • User profile image
    Bass

    I think the general thing I am trying to get at this:

    My political ideas really extend from this philosophical idea that I described. Because really political ideology and modern economics is just a footnote in a book that's mostly written about technology and science. The Universe is not build on economics, it's not built on politics. It's build on science and mathematics. So when we argue about economic or political issues, what we are doing is quite petty in comparison.

    All of human ideology pales when compared to the powerful and profound thoughts of technological singularity. In such an advanced society the idea of an economy in the first place is almost nonsensical. So yes we are so far away from it, but somehow I think the goal of humanity should be to take science and technology to it's eventual outcome.

  • User profile image
    Sabot

    Firstly we are struggling with the definition of what Intelligence actually is. Modelling in the brain has only taken us so far.

    We can teach machines to repeat things after it has learnt them ... but the trick is to reuse things it has previously learnt to learn something new by itself.

    Greater automation by software has really only lead to changes in the way we live our lives, yes people lose jobs but they adapt which is something we are actually very good at. However people don't like change and this is a normal protection system. 

    There are still a billion and 1 things to do and until we develop a machines that can truly replace ourselves we are safe yet.

     

  • User profile image
    Bas

    Destroy the Spinning Jenny!


    These sort of discussions always focus on the negative side of automation. There's two sides to every coin, so there has to be some advantages too, right? I find that automation replaces a lot of the 'low intelligence' jobs, but there's still a demand for people that tell these machines what to do. People very high up in the hierarchy, in other words. If humans are only required for jobs that require high intelligence, and we give this enough centuries, will that mean that natural selection kicks in and the average intelligence of the human race will dramatically increase? Maybe the world's population will decrease as well.

  • User profile image
    littleguru

    Bass said:
    littleguru said:
    *snip*
    If you find this sort of advancement to be a problem, what is your solution? Is it to halt all progress in the software industry and computer science research in general? Because otherwise we will continue to move more toward an automated world.

    Automatic street cleaning is actually a somewhat complex computer science problem. You have a lot of variables to account for, it's probably harder then automating many aspects of an assembly line. Basically not all forms of menial labor are algorithmically easy. But in the end of the day, it's all solvable.
    I don't have a solution for the problem. I also think that people in general are not getting any smarter and that people need a job. They need tasks that they do in life. That's important because otherwise people start getting depressed and upset. Not all can do computer science or rocket science.

  • User profile image
    TommyCarlier

    littleguru said:
    Bass said:
    *snip*
    I don't have a solution for the problem. I also think that people in general are not getting any smarter and that people need a job. They need tasks that they do in life. That's important because otherwise people start getting depressed and upset. Not all can do computer science or rocket science.
    They need tasks that they do in life.
    If those tasks can be automated, wouldn't it be better that they perform more useful tasks? Our company has actually developed an application for general purpose automation of file-related tasks. It enables all kinds of scenarios for automatically doing stuff people used to do manually. One task we "programmed" is a process that runs each Friday that gathers statistics from a bunch of databases, pours them into a single file and transmits that file to my Transceiver-account (kind of like e-mail). This means that I don't have to check the statistics manually anymore (I sometimes forget to do stuff like this). I just get them in my inbox.

  • User profile image
    littleguru

    TommyCarlier said:
    littleguru said:
    *snip*
    If those tasks can be automated, wouldn't it be better that they perform more useful tasks? Our company has actually developed an application for general purpose automation of file-related tasks. It enables all kinds of scenarios for automatically doing stuff people used to do manually. One task we "programmed" is a process that runs each Friday that gathers statistics from a bunch of databases, pours them into a single file and transmits that file to my Transceiver-account (kind of like e-mail). This means that I don't have to check the statistics manually anymore (I sometimes forget to do stuff like this). I just get them in my inbox.
    Sure... but not all people are suitable for "more useful" tasks - not everyone has an IQ that's over 120. And btw. who defines what is "more useful".

  • User profile image
    TommyCarlier

    littleguru said:
    TommyCarlier said:
    *snip*
    Sure... but not all people are suitable for "more useful" tasks - not everyone has an IQ that's over 120. And btw. who defines what is "more useful".
    With "more useful" I mean something that can't be automated yet. I could spend my days doing routine stuff like doing manual backups of my files, manually defragmenting my harddisk, manually visiting websites with useful articles, ... Backups and defragmentation are scheduled and performed automatically, Google Reader automatically collects useful information (and comics Wink) for me (currently 195 different feeds), Google Alerts automatically notifies me when someone is writing something about some of my software (or that of my company). I could do these things manually, but I prefer doing "more useful" tasks. Automation is not "stealing my job", it's enabling me to do what I was hired for (developing software).

  • User profile image
    florindonot

    old cultures know that efficiency is not to be valued.

  • User profile image
    Bas

    florindonot said:

    old cultures know that efficiency is not to be valued.

    If I have nothing to do, that means I am free to do whatever I want. That makes me happy.

  • User profile image
    vesuvius

    Bas said:
    florindonot said:
    *snip*
    If I have nothing to do, that means I am free to do whatever I want. That makes me happy.
    Not if your Government have anything to do with it!

    According to George Orwell, War is Peace. The economic collapse is exactly what all Government strives for. An acceptable way to squander your money, and keep you pinned down economically. they will say "We are in a recession, don't spend too much". "You have lost 2 million jobs, vote for me and I will create 4 million".

    If there were no things like wars, or economic collapse, then we'd all be far wealthier, maybe even start to demand free private medical insurance for our taxes, and tripling our pensions.

    The government wants you happy-ish, but not ecstatic. It would eradicate a need for them. This is not my reasoning by the way. Just being a sort of 'devils advocate' to precipitate debate.

    Caveat Emptor. It was Remembrance Sunday just passed, and I must interject that I cannot, am not, nor ever will diminish the courageous and wholly honourable efforts of our Armed Services.

  • User profile image
    Bass

    vesuvius said:
    Bas said:
    *snip*
    Not if your Government have anything to do with it!

    According to George Orwell, War is Peace. The economic collapse is exactly what all Government strives for. An acceptable way to squander your money, and keep you pinned down economically. they will say "We are in a recession, don't spend too much". "You have lost 2 million jobs, vote for me and I will create 4 million".

    If there were no things like wars, or economic collapse, then we'd all be far wealthier, maybe even start to demand free private medical insurance for our taxes, and tripling our pensions.

    The government wants you happy-ish, but not ecstatic. It would eradicate a need for them. This is not my reasoning by the way. Just being a sort of 'devils advocate' to precipitate debate.

    Caveat Emptor. It was Remembrance Sunday just passed, and I must interject that I cannot, am not, nor ever will diminish the courageous and wholly honourable efforts of our Armed Services.
    I think technology can transcend the law. So really the government won't be able to do much about it.

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